Obama Assumes Islam Is Like Christianity Rather Than Judaism

March 27, 2014 "The President talks with Pope Francis following a private audience at the Vatican."  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

March 27, 2014
The President talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Now I understand. I understand how President Obama has come to his conclusions about violent extremism. I see how and why he has an aversion to using the label “Islamic” for the horrific violence and terrorism that plagues us.

I have been paying very close attention to the speeches the president has made and the statements he has given.  I collected all his comments about terror over the past few months. I read them as a single documentlike a long essay or a thesis. I did it in order to piece together the President’s line of thinking and to understand the way his thoughts progressed and developed.

The problem President Barack Obama has dealing with extreme Islamic terror rests with a simple and classic problem in understanding Islam. President Obama, like many other Americans, thinks that Islam is a religion just like Christianity.

Islam is not at all like Christianity.

Islam resembles Judaism. But Islam is not at all like Christianity.


Not to have a word for religion in a religion should be telling you something. It means that those describing it by using the word religion do not understand the complexity and the system.


It is impossible to break through even the most superficial aspects of Islam when viewing it through the prism of a religion that resembles Christianity.

Christianity is a faith-based religion. Belief is everything. And belief is the emphasis in what is called Pauline Christianity. Paul ridiculed the Jews for adhering to precepts and laws. For his religion, he took the “wine of Judaism.” That means he took only the nice parts. He removed the rigid behavioral requirements known as “halakah,” Jewish law, the daily precepts that govern life. He retained the concept of faith and belief. It was Paul who created Christianity. It was a response to Judaism and faith and belief were paramount.

Islam, like Judaism, has essential beliefs but their world revolves around a set of laws and codes of behavior and those codes dictate actions. In fact, in Arabic there is no real word for “religion.” The most commonly used word is “din.” Din means to comply with Sharia law. It is also used to describe Christians in prayer. The word comes from the Zoroastrian Persian.

In Hebrew, too, the word “din” means law and for the very same reason. Like in Arabic, there is no Hebrew word for religion. Hebrew borrows a different word from Persian to describe religion and that word is “dat.”

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Not to have a word for religion in a religion should be telling you something. It means that those describing it by using the word religion do not understand the complexity and the system.

When one uses the term religion in today’s world it refers to a system of beliefs. Originally the Latin word “religio” meant reverence toward a god or set of gods. Today, that concept has morphed into religion being an entire system of common beliefs. While Islam does have a belief structure it is simply a tiny element of the larger gestalt.

Another fundamental reason why Islam cannot at all be compared to Christianity is that there is no such thing as the concept of secular in Islam. One cannot even say hello or goodbye in proper Arabic or respond to any greeting without invoking the name of Allah.

Muslims at a mosque (Photo: Wikimedia)

Muslims praying at a mosque (Photo: Wikimedia)

When modernity set in there was a major push to modernize religious behaviors in all religions in the West. Secularism became a major theme of political and social life and adhering to tradition was seen as old fashioned. Western societies forced their citizens into modern belief structures. Blending modern values with traditional values became the goal.  As religious leadership balanced these countervailing forces, tradition and modernity were pitted against one another.

In France and Germany, for example, traditional Jewish life was shunned by the modernists. Reformers, true to their name, changed Judaism to make it more in tune with the modern. Reformers in the 1800’s did to Judaism what Paul did 2000 years earlier to Judaism to turn it into Christianity. Decorum and fashion as well as proper behavior and even vernacular was inserted into Judaism. The notion that Jews should yearn for the messianic era or yearn to return to Zion was stripped in this new Reform Jewish sect.

The Conservative movement in Judaism was created as an outgrowth of the reformers by those who felt that the reform movement had changed too much.  So they became more conservative–hence the name. Even Orthodoxy was a response to the modern new values. Orthodox Jews tried to maintain more of the tradition in the face of the changes.

Islam did not experience any of that modernization. There were no major Muslim communities in Western Europe that needed to blend in with the modern, new, now secular world.  No changes were ever made.

That is where the problem rests for Barack Obama.

The President does not understand the history and evolution and consequently the differences between Christianity and Islam.  Mr. President, Islam is not like Christianity.  Never was and never will be. That’s important to understand.

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Micah D. Halpern is the author of the best selling, book Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder.
Obama Assumes Islam Is Like Christianity Rather Than Judaism